Saturday, 31 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1994

Can you believe there was a time when we weren't all just a bit tired of Alex Ross' painted artwork? Or when hardly anyone had heard of Kurt Busiek? Marvels made stars of both men, and deservedly so. A retelling of some of the most iconic moments from the 60s and 70s of Marvel Comics, through the cynical eyes of a photojournalist, Marvels managed to make events like the coming of Galactus and the death of Gwen Stacy come to life in a way that even Jack Kirby and Gil Kane could only dream. Like all classics, it's probably a bit overrated, but it holds up a damn site better than most modern classics, much like the source material that Busiek and Ross were studying.

1994 was also the year that saw Avengers West Coast shut down and replaced with the much more EXTREME Force Works. It featured some of the earliest Marvel US work by the 2000AD team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who would do much better on books to come. Mostly made up of disaffected ex-Avengers, Force Works handled cases too EXTREME for other super teams. I'd take the piss out of this more, but it doesn't really deserve it. Not compared to the awful terribleness that was Fantastic Force, an attempt to create an FF franchise. This starred mysteriously grown-up Franklin Richards leading a team of heroes so obscure that they arrived without trace, and vanished the same way a year or so later. Interestingly, the team was brought together by the Black Panther, who somehow managed to wriggle out of membership. Good choice, T'challa.

Less terribly awful, at least at first, was Generation X, an attempt at the whole "mutant kids learning to adjust to their powers in a school environment" concept, that the New Mutants had tried a decade or so back. This saw the transformation of Emma Frost from White Queen of the Hellfire Club to the sarcastic schoolmistress we've all come to know and love.

Another new book, and one which whilst somewhat better regarded, would vanish without trace after barely a handful of issues, was Clan Destine, Alan Davis' follow-up to his Excalibur work. Quirky does not usually equate with longevity, and this was no exception.

Oh, and was there something else? I'm sure there was some other event. Oh, yes, of course. Spider-Man began to share book space with a young man calling himself Ben Reilly. Disaster lay ahead...

In the real world, or close to it, Kurt Cobain broke teenage grunge hearts all over the world, Ayrton Senna crashed into a wall at 135mph, and John Smith died, giving God's Gift To Labour a chance to rule Britain in a couple of years.

Friday, 30 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1993

The line had kicked off at the tail end of the previous year, but 1993 was the year that the Marvel 2099 line really kicked off. Set in a dystopian future world run by mostly evil corporations, 2099 dealt with the introduction of super-types to that world. Notably, the line featured Ravage, a character created and written by Stan The Man, in what I'm pretty sure was his most recent, and at this rate, probably last, creation for Marvel. Other books in the line featured future incarnations of Spider-Man and the Punisher, and a version of Dr Doom about whose true identity there was some mystery.

Subsequently, these initial books were followed up by X-Men, Ghost Rider, and Hulk titles, as Marvel attempted to squeeze every last buck out of their cyberpunk / dark future fans. By the time the Fantastic Four arrived in the world of tomorrow, the 2099 cash cow had pretty much been bled dry. To be fair, this was 1996, so the concept had had a good innings.

Finally killed off in 1998, with the arrival in the future of Captain America, there have been occasional attempts to revisit the 2099 line, most recently this year with the Timestorm book, and who knows, we may yet see the line spring back into life, sometime in the next 90 years.

1993 also saw the Avengers get a new member, the Shi'ar, Deathcry, and also saw the arrival of yet another Captain Marvel. This one was Genis-Vell, the son of the original Kree hero, and used the title, Legacy, before eventually taking over the mantle of his father. Genis-Vell first appeared in an annual, as did Adam-X, who for a while, was nearly someone important in the X-Books.

Finally, this was also the year in which, after keeping the same outfit for almost all of the 30 years of his existence, the Powers-What-Be decided to give Daredevil a new costume, one that only a blind man could love.

Yes, folks, it really is that hideous. Thankfully, this was kicked into touch pretty swiftly, banished to the land of Nineties Nightmare Costumes, where it belongs.

In the real world, 1993 saw Slicky Willy Clinton take over as President. On TV, the X-Files were out there, Frasier Crane was moving to Seattle, and Andy Sipowicz was becoming the best loved cop on telly.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1992

1992 started out as a good year for Marvel. They had a bunch of superstar artists working on their biggest X-Books: Whilce Portacio on Uncanny X-Men, Jim Lee on the Adjectiveless X-Men, and of course, Rob Liefeld on X-Force. Over in the Spider-Books, Erik Larsen had just taken over the writing and drawing on Peter Parker: Spider-Man, replacing Todd McFarlane, who'd gone off in a bit of a strop. They even had a successful relaunch of Guardians of the Galaxy, produced by Jim Valentino. Good times, eh?

It wouldn't last. Turns out that strop that Todd was having was a bit more serious than expected. Rather than going over to DC, or coming back, cap in hand, McFarlane persuaded Portacio, Lee, Leifeld, Larsen and Valentino to go start up their own company with him. Thus was Image Comics born. And while the Image boy's departures did allow new talent like Andy Kubert to get a regular artistic gig, there wouldn't be the superstar mentality of the early 1990s for a good long time.

1992 also saw the Rise of the Midnight Sons, in which Marvel decided to make a group out of all of its darker books. Since, at that point, it only actually had one "darker" book - Ghost Rider - that meant launching a whole line of new books:
Darkhold: Pages From The Book Of Sins - in which dark forces take an ancient grimoire, cut it up, and give pages out of it to unsuspecting bystanders, unleashing all manner of evil.
Spirits of Vengeance - a team-up book between the 1970s Ghost Rider and his 1990s replacement.
Morbius The Living Vampire - the not-quite-a-vampire occasional Spider-Man foe.
Nightstalkers - former Tomb Of Dracula stalwarts, Hannibal King, Frank Drake, and Blade, who teamed up to fight evil. Imagine Angel Investigations, but with less hair product.
Eventually, Dr Strange would be brought into the Midnight Sons fold, but by that time, (1994), the line was dying on its arse, and Marvel would be moving onto its next good idea. More on that later.

As if that wasn't enough, 1992 was also the year in which Tony Stark constructed what would non-ironically be called the War Machine armour. Golly.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1991

Having been pretty much solely responsible for turning Wolverine into the biggest star Marvel Comics had, Chris Claremont must have been delighted when, deciding to give the feisty Canadian some sort of origin story, Marvel decided to ask someone else to write it. That it was comics legend Barry Windsor-Smith who was tapped to write and draw the book may have been of some comfort, as it at least guaranteed that the book would look beautiful. Thankfully, BWS turned in one of the best X-Minis ever, certainly the best one of the decade, and for a few brief months, Marvel Comics Presents - generally the home of inventory stories and worse - became the most exciting book on the shelf.

1991 also saw the debut of annoying wisecracking assassin, Deadpool, as Rob Leifeld and Fabien Nicieza transformed the cute and fluffy New Mutants into the grim and gritty X-Force. Darkhawk, currently enjoying a revival as part of Marvel's cosmic line, made his first metal-armoured appearance, as did Sandman-lite, Sleepwalker. X-Factor got a new line-up, the X-Men got a second core title, and mutant from the future, Bishop, showed up to kick arse and take names.

In the real world, Operation Desert Storm was kicking off in Kuwait, Boris Yeltsin was taking charge in Russia, and another Gandhi was being assassinated. Everyone was going to see Terminator 2 at the pictures, while on tv, Dallas was limping to a conclusion.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

11 of the Best: Cosmic Sagas

Since we're talking about cosmic comics, here's what I regard as the most unmissably unmissable space tales. Long-term readers of comics may find little to surprise them here...

The Coming Of Galactus, Fantastic Four, 1966 (Lee & Kirby)
Jack and Stan had already introduced us to the world beyond, with the introduction of the Skrull Empire in the early issues of FF, but this was the biggie. A god-like being turns up, heralded by a cosmic-powered sentinel, the Silver Surfer, and the Fantastic Four know this is bad news, because the sworn-never-to-interfere Watcher shows up to warn them. Marvel's first truly epic storyline.

The Kree-Skrull War, Avengers, 1971-72 (Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, and Neil Adams)
Also introduced in the pages of the FF, the Kree were the great space power of the galaxy, with the Earth considered too remote to interest them. That changed when the Kree's centuries-old conflict with the Skrull Empire spread to the Earth's solar system. The Avengers were drawn, via their ally, Captain Mar-Vell, into the war, and fought to prevent the Earth itself being an innocent bystander of the battle.

The Thanos War, Strange Tales, Avengers and Marvel Two-In-One, 1977 (Jim Starlin)
The mad god, Thanos, had been lurking on the fringes of the Marvel Universe for a few years, and had even gotten hold of a Cosmic Cube once, but this was his big play for universal domination. Obsessed with death, Thanos had obtained the Infinity Gems, which he intended to use to destroy the universe. The Avengers, Captain Marvel, and Adam Warlock would stand against him, and one of them would not be walking away from this battle.

The Phoenix Saga, X-Men, 1977 (Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne)
This was the X-Men's first big space adventure, in which Professor X's latest floozy, Princess Lilandra, was kidnapped by her insane brother, the Shi'ar Emperor, D'ken, and the team went to rescue her. Notable for the first appearance of the Starjammers, and the first time Jean Grey was allowed to unleash the power of the Phoenix, this also saw the introduction of the Shi'ar as the other great star empire, one powerful enough to give even the Kree pause in their expansionism.

The Trial Of Galactus, Fantastic Four, 1983-84 (John Byrne)
After being saved from certain death by Mr Fantastic, Galactus finds the Skrull homeworld, and eats it. As well as incurring Reed Richards the displeasure of pretty much every sentient being in the universe, this throws out the balance of power in the galaxy, crippling the Skrull Empire, and setting the stage for...

Operation: Galactic Storm, various Avengers books, 1992 (Bob Harras, Steve Epting, Roy and Dann Thomas, Dave Ross, Mark Gruenwald, Rik Levins, Greg Capullo, Gerard Jones and Jeff Johnson)
In which the Kree and Shi'ar Empires go to war, with the Avengers stuck in the middle. Condemned at the time as a cheap attempt to cash in on Operation: Desert Storm (why, and how, anyone would "cash in" on a war is a bit of a puzzler, I have to say), O:GS is notable for the uncompromising attitude of some of the Avengers, an attitude for which the editorial staff have to be commended: no bottling the tough issues here. Of course, this uncompromising attitude is probably where the current "dickish" Iron Man comes from, so it's not all good...

The Troyjan War, Incredible Hulk, 1994 (Peter David and Gary Frank)
Maybe Peter David was hoping to create the next big alien race, or maybe he was just looking for a villain who could give the Hulk a run for his money. Either way, this wasn't the most successful launch, since the Troyjans haven't (to the best of my knowledge) showed up anywhere since the Hulk led his then-allies, the Pantheon, against the Troyjans and their warlord, Arm’chedon (Armageddon, get it?). However, there's a lot going on in this serial, with appearances by both the Silver Surfer and the Starjammers, not to mention a battle royal between the Hulk and the Troyjan's champion, Trauma. Great stuff.

Maximum Security, various titles, 2001 (Kurt Busiek and Jerry Ordway)
One of the wackier storylines of recent years, Maximum Security saw various alien governments, led by the Shi'ar, turn Earth into an impromtuo penal colony and exile their worst criminals there. The prisoners, regretably, include Ego, the Living Planet, who proceeds to try to take over the world. Bizarre, but great fun, which is all you can ask for in a comic, particularly a 21st century comic...

Fall And Rise Of The Shi'ar Empire, Uncanny X-Men, 2006-07 (Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Clayton Henry)
In which Havok pursues his long-lost brother, Vulcan, into deep space, to try to stop him from taking his revenge on the Shi'ar for killing their mother. Another run which disrupts the balance of power in the galaxy, with Vulcan declaring himself Shi'ar emperor and threatening to cause chaos. Mind you, perhaps the Shi'ar can count themselves lucky; after all, they at least managed to avoid...

Annihilation, 2006-07 (Keith Giffen and Andrea Divito)
A dark power strikes in the galaxy, sparking an interstellar war, which sees the Skrull Empire crushed, the Kree severely weakened, and the Silver Surfer once again swearing loyalty to Galactus. Just about every one of Marvel's cosmic powers showed up in this maxi-series, a title which has done more to open up the expanded Marvel Universe than pretty much anything else in the past forty years.

War of Kings, 2009 (Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Paul Pelletier)
Abnett and Lanning have been building on Annihilation for some time now. They used that title as an opportunity to bring Nova back in his own title. They wrote the sequel, Conquest, in which the Phalanx, a long-forgotten X-Men foe, conquer the Kree, and they used that story to launch their own version of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a book which has made a star of a talking raccoon. Finally, they had the Kree, now led by Black Bolt and the Inhumans, go to war with the Vulcan-led Shi'ar, bringing together pretty much all the cosmic events of the past few years. Since Marvel seem to have worked out that there's money to be made out of these cosmic events, expect Abnett and Lanning, and others, to continue mining this seam for some time to come.

(This post mostly recycled from an earlier post on my other blog.)

Monday, 26 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1990

In 1990, Jim Starlin was back with a vengeance. Starlin had been out of the superhero game for most of the 80s, concentrating on his science-fiction work, but his killing off of Robin over in the BatBooks had brought him back to the attention of Marvel Editorial, who hired him to take over the Silver Surfer book. Within a couple of issues, Starlin had brought his most famous creation, Thanos, back from the dead, along with Thanos' nemesis, Drax the Destroyer. For the next couple of years, Starlin would take Marvel Comics in a more cosmic direction, with the Infinity Trilogy, the return of Adam Warlock, and the formation of the Infinity Watch. The cosmic revival didn't last long after Starlin lefr Marvel for other shores, and it would be a long time before we'd see Marvel do "cosmic" again.

In other comics, 1990 saw the introduction of Gambit, terrible accented cajun thief, and Cable, the mutant with the most complicated secret origin ever. I'd explain what was so confusing, but Quarter Bin, a much-missed comics website from ages past, did so much more consisely.

In the Avengers, Spider-Man nearly joined the team, whilst Sersi the Eternal and Rage the street vigilante did so. Danny Ketch became a new Ghost Rider, and Sub-Mariner, Nomad, and the Guardians of the Galaxy all got a new series.

Meanwhile in 1990, Nelson Mandela was out of jail, the USSR was coming apart at the seams, and Mrs Thatcher was being turfed out of her seat. On tv, we were being baffled by Twin Peaks, and Paul Merton and Ian Hislop began taking shots at those making the news, while at the pictures, Macaulay Culkin was becoming a child star.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1989

The X-Universe was getting busy by 1989, with 5 full-time books: Uncanny X-Men (under the control of Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri); Excalibur (Claremont and Alan Davis); Wolverine (Claremont, again, and John Buscema); X-Factor (written by Louise Simonson, and drawn mostly by husband Walt); and New Mutants (Simonson, again, and mostly Bret Blevins, although the issue above was drawn by John Byrne). Of course, had we known what was ahead of us, in terms of the apparent exponential expansion of the X-universe, we'd have counted ourselves lucky to just have five books.

The New Mutants themselves were pretty busy too. They started 1989 by being embroiled in the Inferno saga, with Magik going crazy and turning into a demon. They lost the school and their headmaster, Magneto, turned back into a villain, and they finished the year stranded in Asgard, trying to save the 9 Realms from Hela. By this point, the book had abandoned any of the notion of being a story about school kids who just happened to be mutants, in favour of standard superhero stuff. We weren't quite at the annual "event" stage yet, but we were getting there.

Speaking of events, 1989 saw the "Acts of Vengeance" storyline, where some of Marvel's biggest bad guys decided the best way to beat their foes was to trade opponents. This led to such fights as Doctor Doom versus the Punisher, Daredevil versus Ultron, and the Fantastic Four versus Plantman. That storyline also saw the introduction of the New Warriors, another team of teenage superheroes, whilst, back over at the X-Books, future X-Woman, Jubilee, made her first appearance. Thor had a new secret identity, in the person of Eric Masterson, who'd later become the pseudo-Thunder God, Thunderstrike.

The real 1989 saw author Salman Rushdie get into a spot of bother, the introduction of the somewhat unpopular Poll Tax in the UK, and the decline and fall of the Berlin Wall. Yay!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

70 Years of Comics - 1988

Excalibur had been devised in 1987, in the aftermath of the two X-Events: the Morlock Massacre, which had seen Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler injured and forced to retire from the team; and The Fall Of The Mutants, in which the rest of the X-Men had been apparently killed (in fact, they hadn't died, they'd just gone to Australia, but that's another story). For no particularly good reason, Kitty and Nightcrawler, along with Cyclops' daughter from a possible future, Rachel, teamed up with Marvel UK's Captain Britain, and his girlfriend, Meggan, moved to London and embarked on a series of trans-dimensional adventures. The best of these adventures were written and drawn by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis, and no-one else really seemed to have a feel for how to write this book, which mostly turned into just another X-Book, except for a brief stint where Warren Ellis tried out some of the superhero noir stuff which would make him a name on Image's Stormwatch a few years later.

Elsewhere, in '88, Speedball the Masked Marvel was making his debut, courtesy of Tom DeFalco and Marvel legend, Steve Ditko.

In the real world, 1988 saw the Lockerbie Disaster, and George Bush Sr winning the US Presidential Election. On TV, tiresome sci-fi show, Red Dwarf, was using up money which might have been better spent elsewhere, and Roseanne Barr was making a star out of John Goodman, whilst Roger Rabbit was the talk of Hollywood.

Friday, 23 October 2009

70 Years of Comics - 1987

1987 saw Walt Simonson bring to a close his four-year run on Thor, a run which he'd used to reestablish Thor's godly credentials. Simonson had used ever Norse legend out there, up to and including Ragnarok. In the process, Thor had been mostly pulled out of his usual interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe, although he would still be involved in major events like the Siege of Avengers Mansion and the Morlock Massacre. For most of the run, Simonson was both writing and drawing the book, though for the later issues the art was handled by workhorse Sal Buscema, who showed he was just as capable at handling the epic stuff as he had been the day-to-day activities of Peter Parker and Bruce Banner. Like Frank Miller's run on Daredevil, Simonson's run on Thor has never been matched; unlike Miller's run, no-one's even come close to matching Simonson.

1987 was the year that Steve Rogers was replaced in the Captain America suit by John Walker, who would later be better known as the U.S. Agent. It also saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson marry move in together, setting a fine example to the youth of America.

1987 also saw Terry Waite kidnapped in Beirut, where he'd spend the next 4 years in captivity. Ronald Reagan and Oliver North were embroiled in the Iran-Contra Affair. And despite Michael Fish's assurances to the contrary, there was a hurricane coming to the south of England.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

"Expect The Unexpected!"

So, as we've previously seen, 1986 saw the introduction of Jim Shooter's New Universe line, which was, I think, the first attempt by any comics company to launch, from scratch, a whole new universe, with heroes and villains gaining their powers as a result of a mysterious "White Event". We'd later see this sort of thing, again from Jim Shooter at Valiant Comics, from the launch of Image Comics, and indeed from Marvel with the 2099 and Ultimate lines. But this was, in 1986, a relatively revolutionary idea.

One of the controversies of the New Universe was that, according to legend, Marvel wiped out a swathe of its existing titles to make way for the new books. In actual fact the only books which I can see as being canned in the months before the launch were Power Man And Iron Fist, a title which had (and I speak as a big fan of Iron Fist) seen better times; Star Wars, which had lasted several years after the release of Return of the Jedi; Doctor Who, something of a niche product (in those days); and The Thing, despatched, at least in part, so that Jim Shooter could bring Ben Grimm back into the Fantastic Four fold. Other than that, and a couple of mini-series finishing up, there wasn't much in the way of dead wood being cleared in the months up to the launch of the first New Universe books.

Famously, Shooter fell foul of Marvel's new managment team, and so his plan to hire top talent to launch his new line was thwarted: oddly, no-one who was anyone wanted to write or draw a brand new, untried-out book, especially as there was no money to pay anyone. What we ended up with was a host of books written by Marvel's editorial team, and drawn by those who really needed the work.

Star Brand
Shooter himself wrote, whilst John Romita Jr, one of the few willing volunteers for the project, drew this, a tale of an ordinary man who suddenly gains superpowers. One of the more criticized books, described as a wish fulfilment book for Shooter himself, Star Brand was nonetheless one of the more lasting concepts, being picked up in the Marvel Universe proper long after the New Universe was long gone.

Spitfire And The Troubleshooters
Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe came up with this one, based around the adventures of a group of MIT students and their battle suit

Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan wrote the entire 32 issue run of this one, concerning a group of suddenly-superpowered folk who, rather than be cut up like lab rats, go on the run. If you're a fan of the X-Men and The Fugitive, this might be your kind of thing.

Brought to us by Archie Goodwin and Geoff Isherwood, Justice concerned the exploits of an alien who came to Earth to hunt down the evil. At least it did, until Peter David was hired to retcon Justice into a delusional government agent instead. Amazingly, this book lasted 32 issues.

Kickers, Inc.
At the same time that Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were building a rep for themselves as the creative team on Amazing Spider-Man, they were also working together on this book, about a team good samaritans, led by a superstrong ex-footballer. As good as it sounds, this book managed 12 issues, before being put to death, by which time DeFalco and Frenz had left the book to take on the adventures of a golden-haired Asgardian.

Mark Hazzard: Merc
Written, at first, by Peter David, and drawn, at first, by Gray Morrow, this dealt with, as you may guess, the adventures of an appropriately named mercenary. Certainly different to normal superhero fare, it was barely related to any of the other New Universe books, which may explain why it lasted only the dozen issues.

Another book by Archie Goodwin, with a rotating cast of artists that included future workhorses, Ron Lim and Mark Bagley, among many others. Lasting just the twelve issues, this one began with Keith Remsen, comatose since an explosion, being awoken by the White Event, and gaining the power to enter people's dreams, like the Sandman, only wearing a domino mask, for some reason.

A group of telepaths on the run from American and Russian secret service agents, Psi Force was the creation of Archie Goodwin (again) and Walt Simonson, though neither of them showed up to produce an issue. Notably, this did see some very early comics work from top 90s talent, Fabien Nicieza, who wrote half of its 32 issues.

After various attempts at tinkering, including the departure of Jim Shooter, the slimming down of the books, and a couple of "event" books, the New Universe line was somewhat unceremoniously killed off in the summer of '89, its titles replaced with a swathe of new books: Quasar; a second volume of What If?; and new titles for She-Hulk, Nick Fury and Moon Knight. The age of experiment was over, and it was back to stripmining Marvel's history, for the next few years, at least.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1986

In 1986, rising comics superstar Frank Miller was just finishing up his second run on Daredevil. The "Born Again" saga, by Miller and David Muzzicchelli, began with the Kingpin discovering the secret identity of his blind foe, and ended with Daredevil teaming up with Captain America to battle a deranged supersoldier. along the way, Miller took us into the hearts of Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, as well as their numerous friends and associates, and set a standard that successive writers, try as they might, have never quite been able to match.

Elsewhere in 1986, Magneto was taking charge of the New Mutants. Jean Grey was back from the dead, prompting the original X-Men to reunite as the mutant-hunting X-Factor Investigations. Private investigator, Dakota North, was introduced to the Marvel Universe, as was Sharon Ventura, the new Ms. Marvel. The Scourge of the Underworld was wiping out hordes of second and third-tier villains, whilst the Marauders were wiping out hordes of Morlocks. And Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil were doing a decent job of destroying the Avengers. But all this would pale into insignificance in the face of the coming of the New Universe titles. More on that later.

Outside of comics, 1986 was the year of the Challenger Disaster, and I don't really have anything else to say about that year.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

"Slay Your Enemies, And All You Desire Shall Be Yours!"

As mentioned yesterday, in 1985 (and indeed 1984) comic fans were getting all excited over Secret Wars. It was, while by no means the first mini-series published by Marvel, certainly the first one to have line-wide consequences. These days Marvel would call it an "event", publish a line of related titles, and you'd be sick of the thing before it was halfway finished. In the mid-80s though, Marvel just had many of their top heroes whisked away via a mysterious portal to another world, where they were forced to battle villains, with the promise of the ultimate prize for the winners. Jim Shooter took a year to tell the story of what had happened, but whilst these days, we'd face 12 months of comics featuring stand-in heroes in the missing characters' books, in those days, they simply showed the heroes returning the next month, and the radical changes which the as yet untold Secret Wars had wrought.

Spider-Man appeared with a new, black and white costume, which changed between civilian and super-duds depending on what was needed, and which never ran out of webbing. Later he'd discover that the costume was actually an alien symbiote, trying to take him over. Later still, the symbiote would be reborn as the villainous Venom, and later still, we'd all be sick of the sight of the black costume. But at the time, for all that it was just a change of look, we were quite excited by it.

The Incredible Hulk came back from Battleworld with a broken leg and a bad attitude. The broken leg was courtesy of a fight against Ultron, whilst the bad attitude came, at least in part, from the manipulations of old Dr Strange foe, Nightmare, out to get at the Sorcerer Supreme via one of his fellow former Defenders. Of course, a week of fighting the Absorbing Man and having mountains dropped on him probably didn't help the Hulk's disposition either.

The Vision, newly recovered from a near-death experience, took advantage of the disappearance of most of the Avengers to launch a bloodless coup. Naming himself chairman, he cosied up to the government and got them to approve setting up a new West Coast branch of the team. Had anyone realised that he was suffering from the android equivalent of brain damage after his time spent in a coma, he'd probably have encountered slightly more resistance.

Ben Grimm, in contrast to most of the heroes, quite enjoyed his time away from Earth. He discovered that he was able to turn back into his human form at will, and decided that, on the whole, he'd sooner spend his future riding around on pteradons than go home and be a monster again. So he chose to stay on Battleworld, leaving the Fantastic Four a man short.

The FF didn't waste time replacing the Thing, offering his place in the team to the first superstrong person they saw. In this case, the She-Hulk, who, although a member of the Avengers, was happy to cross the street to the Baxter Building. Later, the Human Torch would take advantage of the Thing's absence to shag his girlfriend. Classy. Secret Wars would also tease the readers of the FF with the mystery of how Doctor Doom, killed the previous year, could be alive on Battleworld. A somewhat convoluted explanation would eventually be given, accompanied by a somewhat gratuitous appearance by the Beyonder.

And the X-Men? Well, they stood around a hill in Japan talking a lot. Well, it was the 80s, and it was Chris Claremont, so perhaps we shouldn't have expected anything too revolutionary. In Claremont's defence, he did use Secret Wars to promote his agenda of Magneto as an extreme activist, rather than as an out-and-out supervillain, to break up Kitty Pryde and Colossus as a couple, and to justify Professor X deciding to take a more active role in leading the X-Men, but what we really remember is the constant talking...

Monday, 19 October 2009

70 Years of Marvel - 1985

1985 saw the conclusion of the original Secret Wars series, a particularly well-received mini-series, in which the Beyonder, an all-powerful alien, kidnapped Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, and sent them to a planet to fight a variety of supervillains, including Galactus, Kang, Doctor Octopus, and of course, Doctor Doom (pictured, above, getting a kicking from the Beyonder). The series, written by then editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, was followed up by Secret Wars 2, in which the Beyonder came to Earth to study humanity, meeting pretty much every hero along the way. Secret Wars 2 was pretty much universally reviled, which shows that even in the 80s, Marvel didn't know how to quit while they were ahead.

Secret Wars 2 did have one long-term effect, that of the introduction of Tabitha Smith, who, under the alias, Boom Boom, would become one of the New Mutants. Also, Longshot, hollow-boned alien mutant X-Man, made his first appearance in this year, whilst Firestar, who'd been one of Spider-Man's Amazing Friends on tv a few years previously, made it into the Marvel Universe proper.

In the real world, 1985 was the year of Live Aid, in which the great and the good of pop music sang their little hearts out for famine relief. Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. Coca Cola released New Coke; it didn't last.

On the telly, Eastenders, an ordinary tale of simple London folk, had its debut, as did the Australian soap, Neighbours. Action hero, MacGuyver, made his first appearance, Bruce Willis was becoming a star in Moonlighting, and Elmo joined the cast of Sesame Street. In the cinema, Out of Africa was scooping up Oscars like candy, but Back to the Future was the film people actually wanted to see.